Three Scottish Cafes

On grey drizzly days (like today and the several that have come before it), my mind wanders back to the many rainy afternoons in Edinburgh when I would try to convince Mike that we should once again go to one of my favorite cafes for lunch.

My top three favorites are:

1. Dovecot Cafe

2. Edinburgh Larder

3. Peter’s Yard

First, Dovecot Cafe.

The “Dovecot Cafe by Stag Espresso”  is part of Dovecot Studios, a tapestry studio and museum.  It is right across the street from Old College, where the law school is, and so it’s perfect for a quick bite, a leisurely lunch, or just a cup of tea or espresso.  In addition to the standard  menu, they would also have daily soups and sometimes sandwiches.  I often ordered whatever soup was available, as it felt like it was the right thing to do when the weather was so grey outside, and I loved every one I tried.  Some of my favorites were the spicy tomato with pasta pearls, lentil and bacon, and tomato basil.  I was also in love with their sandwiches, in particular the smoked salmon with wasabi cream cheese or the roasted chicken and chorizo with guacamole.

Mike and I had our favorites, though, and one of mine was absolutely the falafel salad.  Surprisingly, I had never tried falafel itself before I came to Scotland, but when I did I fell in love.  Mike and I had our normal falafel shop where we would go for the 5 pound meal deal that also got you chips and a drink).  But back to this salad . . . there were so many times when I wouldn’t even look at the menu because I knew it was a falafel salad day.

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The salad came with baby spinach leaves topped with cucumber and carrot ribbons, sliced tomatoes, several falafel balls, and hummus.  Olive oil and balsamic vinegar were also provided, and I would usually drizzle a little of both just to moisten the spinach a bit.  This salad quickly became my favorite because it was refreshing, healthy, tasty, very pretty, and extremely satisfying.  Mike’s usual was the honey roast ham and smoked applewood cheddar with tomato, Stag chutney, and leaves.  In addition to the sandwich fillings being very fresh, tasty, and creative, the bread also really made these sandwiches.  The center of each slice achieved an amazing level of softness, and the crusts were firm enough to keep the sandwich together but not too tough.  We were also big fans of the espresso drinks at Dovecot – I would normally have a latte and Mike would have a mocha (or maybe two).

Second, the Edinburgh Larder.

I have already written a bit about the Larder in my post on Scottish Scones, but we did not visit this cafe just for scones.  Occasionally Mike and I would treat ourselves to breakfast here, and we also came many times for lunch.  If we went for breakfast, I would usually order scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on toast, and a scone of course as well.  For lunch, there was a range of options to choose from.  There were the daily specials, including soups and baked items such as pies or quiches, deli plates featuring vegetables, fish, and meat, and of course sandwiches.

My favorite sandwich was the hot smoked salmon with lemon mayo that you see here.

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The sandwiches were always accompanied by two side salads based on seasonal locally sourced ingredients.  Like Dovecot, the bread in these sandwiches was also wonderful.  I did also enjoy the side salads, as they often gave me an opportunity to try things that I would not normally have selected for myself.  Mike would often get the venison sausage sandwich, which was also very good, of course.

Third, Peter’s Yard.

This cafe is an “artisan Swedish bakery” located in the Quartermile area that is closer to the main library than the other cafes.  As good as the food is here, it was always a bit of a gamble.  The thing about Peter’s Yard is that they would only prepare a certain amount of food for the day and put it on display.  This means that if you arrive late in the afternoon there is a chance they will be sold out of most of their menu items, and you could not rely on them to have what you were looking for on a particular day.  There was also a “take-away” smaller version of the larger cafe around the corner that sold soup, sandwiches, and ice cream – all to-go.  Mike and I developed a system where we would check both of them to see which spot had the soups we wanted (for some reason the main cafe would not necessarily serve the same soup as the take-away cafe), and then we would take our soup and accompanying bread to the meadows for lunch.
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Once again, I must discuss the bread.  Normally you would be served one slice of multi grain bread and one slice of sourdough bread, but on this happy day I received two slices of multi grain, my favorite.   This hearty bread was different from that served at Larder or Dovecot, but very flavorful with all the grains and seeds mixed into the bread.

During the summer, Peter’s Yard also served pizzas, which I think was truly the star of my eating experiences there.  The pizza was only available in the evenings, so I would plan on certain days to stay in the library all afternoon so I could reward myself with Peter’s Yard afterwards.  On the day I finally handed in my dissertation I celebrated with a Peter’s Yard Pizza and a bottle of wine.

As in Sweden, apparently, you only have three choices for pizza: vegetarian, salami or Parma ham, or anchovies.  Of course, I went with anchovies, but I think I also remember they had daily specials and I probably ordered that at least once.  The crust was chewy and fluffy with just the right mix of soft and crispy.  The ingredients, like everything else, were fresh and inventive, and I believe they used fresh mozzarella cheese, which always makes me SO happy when it comes to pizza.

In conclusion, these three cafes in Scotland hold a special place in my heart.  As convenient as Panera is here in the U.S. for a quick lunch, there is something to the fact that these cafes make what they serve daily using fresh local ingredients that go so well together and offer such an enjoyable eating experience.  Of course, I know there are cafes close to where I live that do the same, but I have yet to find one that achieves the same level of delicacy and simplicity that I found in my three Scottish favorites.  As such, I am eagerly awaiting my next return to Edinburgh.

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